How to Build Relationships When Colleagues are Here, There or Anywhere

homeoffice

Open office. Hoteling. Agile office environments.

Whatever you want to call it, working here, there, and everywhere is here to stay. Without water cooler talk, chance hallway meetings, and idle conversation waiting for meetings to begin, it can be hard to develop relationships with new colleagues or keep existing relationships strong and healthy.

Relationship development often gets overlooked when people are not collocated with their team.  People tend to focus primarily on the tasks and the work and forget to develop a relationship with remote workers like the ones they have with their collocated colleagues. 

Here are three quick tips to stay connected with your colleagues who are officeing elsewhere.

1) Use a webcam for as many interactions as you can. Many times remote workers are reluctant to do this – they may be uncomfortable on camera, not in a perfect environment, or any number of other reasons. When they do get on camera, however, it is much easier for their counterparts, whether located in a central office or remotely themselves – to see them as human. As such, colleagues are less likely to make assumptions, blame, or act negatively toward each other.

2) Make small talk.  It is especially important to do so while waiting for all parties to get on the line on a conference call, WebEx, or videoconference. Make small talk with those dialing in just like you would if they were in the same room.  I’ve seen those who are collocated put the remote workers on mute and have the small talk without them. The remote workers, more than anyone, need to be included in the small talk to develop relationships.  This does a great disservice to the relationship and the project work.  When people have deeper relationships, it is easier to have difficult conversations, deal with problems, and handle conflict. 

3) See each other’s space. If you are not in the main office or headquarters, share pictures of your home office environment with your colleagues. This is another technique for humanizing the remote workers and developing relationships with them.

In the comments below, add the tips you have for staying connected with your colleagues who are here, there, or anywhere.

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    I’m often asked, “What’s the best solution for our work environment: open office, bullpens, work from home, or what?”

    It’s a great question and one that does not have a one-size-fits-all answer.  No one likes to hear, “It depends,” and my answer still is “It depends.”

    Specifically, it depends on these three things:

    1. Need for intense collaboration.

    Imaging employees standing in front of a white board, diagramming software functionality, a marketing campaign or any other function.

    Collaboration, right?

    Now, what happens next is critical.

    Do those same employees need to continue to make sense of their work and collaborate out loud during the creative part and the execution part of those functions?  How do they score on a scale of 1 – 10 (in which 1 is low need and 10 is high) on their need to collaborate out loud throughout the design and execution?

    Anything less than an 8 needs quiet space for deep work.

    8 and over? Put them in a bullpen or provide them with low-walled cubes, AND make sure to put some noise insulation between those teams and other teams who have different needs. And put some insulated walls between them and other teams who have the same needs, so that they are not distracted by the out loud work of others.

    2. Need for Deep Work.

    Imagine a financial analyst tasked with projecting the next quarter’s earnings in a wildly fluctuating marketplace, including the launch of a major new product from your organization nearly simultaneously with a similar product from your top competitor.

    Now imagine that analyst spinning out various scenarios, calculating profit and loss and shareholder reaction.  All in the midst of dozens and dozens of colleagues whose work demands that they work out loud.

    The analyst’s need to perform deep work (a term I’m borrowing from Cal Newport’s book by the same name) demands a space free from distraction.

    Our best thinking is accomplished when we disconnect from other conversations and interruptions (including technology).

    Take a close look at the output of the job function and ask, as a percentage of full-time work week, how often does this function engage in deep work?  Anything over 40% requires a quiet work environment where noise and interruption are kept to a minimum.

    3. Balance between intense collaboration and Deep Work.

    Some job functions will require intense collaboration and deep work in relatively equal measure.

    Imagine a usability team who is working to make improvements in the design of a product. They come together for intense collaboration, gathering around a whiteboard for the better part of a week, working out loud.  Then, each with their own part of the design to work on (or the usability test plan, etc.), they retreat to research best practices and do the more intense, creative parts of their job, requiring deep work.

    In this case, hoteling, where team members have access to different spaces that support both out loud work and quiet independent work, would be a terrific fit. (The trick here is adequate square footage of each and a calendaring system that enables availability – both when scheduled and when needed on an impromptu basis, but that’s a topic for another article).

    Yes, it depends.

    When you’ve accurately assessed these factors by interviewing your employees, evaluating the needs of their job functions and observing their best work, then and only then, will your specific flavor of “It depends” become crystal clear.

     

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    Future of work

    The design of work – from how we meet the needs of our customers to how we communicate internally to the way our work space is designed – is changing.  The workplace of 2025 will look much different than the workplace of today.

    Here are my top three prognostications for what the future of work holds.

    1. Move over, Millennials.

    In 2020 Millennials will make up 50% of the workforce and by 2025 that number will be 75%. Close on their heels are Gen Z, or those born in 1997 and later. These digital natives think differently about work than their predecessors. They were raised using technology to communicate. They were raised on an strange cocktail of autonomy and oversight (think: plans a $3000 family vacation at age 12; parent drops off forgotten items at school at age 16). They demand a larger purpose in their work, like the Millennials.  And they will demand even more flexibility in how work is structured.

    • Where they work (office, home, coffee shop, mountain top).
    • When they work (Nine to five? Nah. Work and non-work activities will be far more blended.)
    • How they work.

     

    2. Hollywood, here we come.

    Often dubbed “The Hollywood Model” where experts come together for duration of the project and then go their separate ways, project-based work will thrive as a business structure. The entrepreneurial trend that lends Uber and Fivrr success today, creates an autonomous work environment where people come together to share what they do best for the people and places who need it and will pay for it.  Project-based work already exists to a large extent within organizational walls, with people coming together for the weeks, months or years it takes to complete the project.  By 2025, however, this trend will reach far beyond corporate walls with experts for hire coming together to do the strategic work of organizations, not just give rides to the airport.

     

    3. Work environments get wilder still, then stabilize.

    Today we see organizations quick to implement the “open-office” concept, only to reverse it several years later, putting the cubicle walls back up.  The next several years will continue to see wild fluctuations in how organizations build out their space: hoteling, pods and bullpens, off-site co-working, work from home and more.  By 2025, leadership will have developed the confidence to see that their organization and their people (and by extension, their culture) have their own distinct needs. They will collaborate with their people to intentionally design spaces and places that best support their functional work, with an eye toward when to collaborate and when to have quiet time for deep, thoughtful work.

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